Red Wings favor youth over free-agent help

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The NHL draft weekend came and went with no trades by the Red Wings, and don't expect them to be active in unrestricted free agency this week.

Teams can sign free agents beginning Wednesday, but judging from the sound of it, general manager Ken Holland isn't planning on opening the checkbook as if it were the NHL of 10 to 15 years ago.

"We're going with our young players, and they need an opportunity to play," Holland said. "You look at (2014 top draft pick) Dylan Larkin, we're going to give him a chance to make our team. Teemu Pulkkinen is (out of minor league options). Our young defensemen (Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet, Nick Jensen, Ryan Sproul). (Goalie) Petr Mrazek started for us in the playoffs.

"We have to give these players an opportunity to play."

The unrestricted free-agent market of today's NHL is completely different from what it used to be.

Young stars are now signed to long-term contracts which keep them out of free agency in their prime years.

This year's UFA market is as weak as it's ever been, with few players (forwards Antoine Vermette and Nick Beleskey, defenseman Mike Green) likely to attract even partial interest.

The Red Wings have few positions available.

Holland said one of the young defensemen — be it either Ouellet, Jensen, Marchenko or Sproul — will definitely be on the roster, with the six other defensive spots all accounted for.

All but Jensen will be out of minor league options next season, so decisions on their NHL futures with the Red Wings must be made.

Pulkkinen is out of minor league options, so he'll likely stay with the Red Wings to start the season, and Larkin will be given a chance to make the NHL roster after an outstanding world championships tournament and playoff series in Grand Rapids this past spring after becoming a pro.

Economics will become a major issue next season.

The Red Wings aren't in any difficulty this summer with the $71.2 million salary cap but could face tricky decisions next season.

Forwards Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader will be unrestricted free agents, and defenseman Danny DeKeyser and forward Riley Sheahan and Mrazek also will be restricted free agents, which could push the Red Wings closer to the ceiling of the cap.

First-round mania

The Red Wings are enthused with their first-round pick from Friday, forward Evgeny Svechnikov.

The Russian forward moved with his family to pursue his hockey career in Canada, and Svechnikov starred with Cape Breton of the Quebec junior league with 32 goals and 78 points in 55 games.

"Just the complete package," said Tyler Wright, the Red Wings' director of amateur scouting, of Svechnikov. "Size, strength, competitiveness, hockey sense. Skill. There's not one thing that he doesn't do very well.

"The skating has to come a little bit but it's not bad by any means, and it'll come with strength.

"And he's a good-character kid. Hockey means everything to him and his family. He was just too good to pass up for us."

Local draftees

After defenseman Zach Werenski (Grosse Pointe Woods/Michigan) and forward Kyle Connor (Shelby Township/Michigan) were drafted in the first round Friday by Columbus and Winnipeg, respectively, there were more players with local ties picked on Day Two of the draft.

■ Forward Dennis Yan (Troy) went in the third-round to Tamp Bay (Yan plays for Shawinigan in the Quebec junior league).

■ Forward Brent Gates (Grand Rapids) was picked by Anaheim in the third round.

■ Forward Brendan Warren (Carleton/Michigan) went to Arizona in the third round.

■ Forward Cooper Marody (Brighton/Michigan) went to Philadelphia in the sixth round.

■ Center Mason Appleton (Michigan State) went to Winnipeg in the sixth round.

■ Defenseman Nick Boka (Plymouth/Michigan) went to Minnesota in the sixth round.

■ Also, Western Michigan's Frederik Tiffels was a sixth-round selection by Pittsburgh, while Michigan Tech defenseman Matt Roy was a seventh-round pick by Los Angeles.